The Literary CornerThe history of Yemen (2/3) [Archives:2005/872/Culture]

August 29 2005

By Abu Alkalmah Al-Tayyibah
Mr. Al-Wasi'y suggests that Yemen's ancient kingdoms maybe divided into four states: Al-Munyanieen (Maenians?) and their capital at Karfa, the Sabaeaans and their capital is Marikeb (probably Mareb), Catabaeans and their capital is at Tahna and the Hadhramis and their capital is at Sabatan.

He suggests that the first Kingdom reached their zenith around 700 BC, but notes that there is an overlap here, as the Queen of Sheba visited King Solomon at 972 BC. He said the Sabaean kings were around 15 in number. Saba's realm extended up to Northern Ethiopia (Eritria and Tagray) and a considerable part of the Arabian Peninsula. The Himyarites overlapped with the Sabaeans in 115 BC. Their kings were called Mukarrib.

He suggests that the Himyarites were aided by the Romans, whose Emperor Augustus sent a force to take over Arabia around 24 BC. The Himyarite kings used to proclaim themselves as sons of gods such as the Kings of Awsan and the Ethiopian King Izna.

Al-Wasi'y, then states however that Yemen's independence was ended in 525 AD with the Ethiopian Army occupation sent by King Kalib Al-Asbaha. Yemen was ruled after that by Viceroys of the Ethiopian king, the first one being an Arab Christian, Simafi'a 'Ashou'a. Yemen also had a bishop, assigned by the Byzantines Emperor Anastabu, where a church was erected and still stands in Dhofar according to the author.

The African Horn was also an area of contention between the Persians and the Byzantines (Arab Historians usually call the Byzantines “Romans”) under Justinian, who sought the Arabs as allies against the Persians who had considerable influence in the Tigris Euphrates Valley.

This led to an Ethiopian attempt to take the City of Mecca (a story related in the Qur'anic Chapter of the Elephant), which failed, but by around 575 AD the Ethiopian influence was replaced with Yemen being a vassal state of the Sassanid Persian Emperors, who hit the Christians hard under the local leadership of Seif Ibn Dhi Yazin.

However, the Persian rule was very loose and the country went into a state of chaos and anarchy with five Persian governors according to the author.

On another note, with the deterioration of the Mareb Dam, the decline of the fertile area under cultivation, life in Yemen deteriorated somewhat because of the “neglect” of the Persian governors, where the assigned administrators seemed to operate freely without much oversight from the home base.

Thus Yemen fell easily to Islamic conversion at the time of the Prophet Mohammed (PBAUH) on Year 8 AH or 629 and 630 AD. The last Persian Governor was named Badahan. Al-Wasi'y notes that a nude statue of a Himyarite King, was found in Ghaiman about 12 km southeast of Sana'a.

He also notes that the ancient money of the Kingdom of Saba around the Third Century BC was a copy influenced by Greek coin mintage, with the first coins that appeared showing the head of the goddess Athena and the flip side having an owl and an olive and a half moon.

It wasn't “domesticated” until the first half of the First Century AD, when the head of Athena was replaced with a man's head, who was adorned in the Yemeni style. In view of the amount of gold available then, there were a lot of gold works that were “noteworthy”.

He then gives a correlation between the Arabic classical script and that of the Himyarite script which is called the “source reference” for reading ancient South Arabian script.

That is as far as the history of Yemen is given any coverage in the book. On the Third Chapter, the author goes into the tribal composition of Yemen and on Chapter Four, the author goes into the Imams of Yemen and the Yemeni people.

Relating from a book called the “Morning of Night Blindness”, he says the Imams of Yemen were humble and rarely aloof from the people mixing with the strong and the weak without any showing any favoritism.

“The Imam is as any of his constituency” in his food and apparel and the people have a high reverence for him, appealing for rain in his name. “Ibn Fadhl Allah” states, says the author, “because of their high moral character and humility, and his high noble origin” their Imam's prayers are answered and the Muezzin calls “Hail to the Best of Deeds”, as the people of Egypt in the Fatimid Era used to do.

In his description of the Yemeni people, Al-Wasi'y says they are “a people of intelligence, acumen, hospitality, charm and sagacity. They are consistent and honest. On the latter, Al-Wasi'y adds this footnote: “I don't say they don't lie, but for the most part honesty prevails among them. Lying is a plight that is generic among all mankind”.

They are a people of strength and perseverance; they are industrious and hard working and when given the chance can be productive in agriculture, industry and commerce.

On the people of Yemen, Al-Wasi'y gives us some interesting statistics and a breakdown of the population size by region and tribe. Among the Yemeni tribes Al-Wasi'y states that there is a tribe in 'Asir (now a part of Saudi Arabia), called Thaquib, who “spoke the Arabic tongue instinctively and by all members “including women and children”.

This was revealed to him he said when he heard their children at age five or six state that he had “two gems” (a pair of glasses) in his eyes in proper Arabic speech and grammer, which he found to be remarkable for children of ages five and six.

On another note, his servant once asked a woman to give him some cloverleaf for the horse and when he said, “Hey woman, “Give us some shrubs for the horse”. She replied, “Look you, I am not a woman, I am still an celibate virgin!”